"No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary. I am not asking your newspapers to support the Administration, but I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people. For I have complete confidence in the response and dedication of our citizens whenever they are fully informed." — JFK
"Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind... War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today." — John F. Kennedy
"An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it."
— John F. Kennedy (Orlando A. Battista)
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy pronunciation (help·info) (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963.
After military service as commander of the Motor Torpedo Boats PT-109 and PT-59 during World War II in the South Pacific, Kennedy represented Massachusetts's 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953 as a Democrat. Thereafter, he served in the U.S. Senate from 1953 until 1960. Kennedy defeated then Vice President and Republican candidate Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. presidential election. He was the youngest elected to the office, at the age of 43, the second-youngest President (after Theodore Roosevelt), and the first president to have been born in the 20th century. Kennedy is the only Catholic president, and is the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize. Events during his presidency included the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Space Race, the African American Civil Rights Movement, and early stages of the Vietnam War.
President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with the crime, but was shot and killed two days later by Jack Ruby before a trial could take place. The FBI, the Warren Commission, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) officially concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin, with the HSCA allowing for the possibility of conspiracy based on disputed acoustic evidence. Today, Kennedy continues to rank highly in public opinion ratings of former U.S. presidents.
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John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President at noon on January 20, 1961. In his inaugural address he spoke of the need for all Americans to be active citizens, famously saying, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." He asked the nations of the world to join together to fight what he called the "common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself". He added: "All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin." In closing, he expanded on his desire for greater internationalism: "Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you."
The address reflected Kennedy's confidence that his administration would chart a historically significant course in both domestic policy and foreign affairs. The contrast between this optimistic vision and the pressures of managing daily political realities at home and abroad would be one of the main tensions running through the early years of his administration.
Kennedy brought to the White House a stark contrast in organization compared to the decision making structure of the former general, Eisenhower; and he wasted no time in dismantling Eisenhower's methods. Kennedy preferred the organizational structure of a wheel, with all the spokes leading to the president. He was ready and willing to make the increased number of quick decisions required in such an environment. He selected a mixture of experienced and inexperienced people to serve in his cabinet. "We can learn our jobs together", he stated. There were a couple instances where the president got ahead of himself, as when he announced in a cabinet meeting, without prior notice, that Edward Lansdale would be Ambassador to South Vietnam, a decision which Secretary of State Rusk later had Kennedy alter. There was also the case of Harris Wofford, who was summoned to the White House for swearing in without knowing which position he was to assume.
Much to the chagrin of his economic advisors, who wanted him to reduce taxes, he quickly agreed to a balanced budget pledge. This was needed in exchange for votes to expand the membership of the House Rules Committee in order to give the Democrats a majority in setting the legislative agenda. The president focused on immediate and specific issues facing the administration, and quickly voiced his impatience with ponderings of deeper meanings. Deputy national security advisor Walt Whitman Rostow once began a diatribe about the growth of communism, and Kennedy abruptly cut him off, asking, "What do you want me to do about that today?"
Foreign policy of the John F. Kennedy administration
President Kennedy's foreign policy was dominated by American confrontations with the Soviet Union, manifested by proxy contests in the early stage of the Cold War. In 1961, Kennedy anxiously anticipated a summit with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The President started off on the wrong foot by reacting aggressively to a routine Khrushchev speech on Cold War confrontation in early 1961. The speech was intended for domestic audiences in the Soviet Union, but Kennedy interpreted it as a personal challenge. His mistake helped raise tensions going into the Vienna Summit of June 1961. On the way to the summit, Kennedy stopped in Paris to meet Charles de Gaulle, who advised Kennedy to ignore Khrushchev's abrasive style. The French president was nationalistic and disdainful of the United States' presumed influence in Europe. Nevertheless de Gaulle was quite impressed with the young president and his family. Kennedy picked up on this in his speech in Paris, saying he would be remembered as "the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris."
On June 4, 1961, the president met with Khrushchev in Vienna and left the meetings angry and disappointed that he had allowed the Premier to bully him, despite the warnings he had received. Khrushchev, for his part, was impressed with the president's intelligence, but thought him weak. Kennedy did succeed in conveying the bottom line to Khrushchev on the most sensitive issue before them, a proposed treaty between Moscow and East Berlin. He made it clear that any such treaty which interfered with U.S access rights in West Berlin would be regarded as an act of war.
Shortly after the president returned home, the U.S.S.R. announced its intention to sign a treaty with East Berlin, abrogating any third-party occupation rights in either sector of the city. Kennedy, depressed and angry, assumed his only option was to prepare the country for nuclear war, which he personally thought had a one in five chance of occurring.
In the weeks immediately after the Vienna summit, more than 20,000 people fled from East Berlin to the western sector in reaction to statements from the USSR. Kennedy began intensive meetings on the Berlin issue, where Dean Acheson took the lead in recommending a military buildup alongside NATO allies. In a July 1961 speech, Kennedy announced his decision to add $3.25 billion to the defense budget, along with over 200,000 additional troops, saying an attack on West Berlin would be taken as an attack on the U.S. The speech received an 85% approval rating. The following month, the Soviet Union and East Berlin began blocking any further passage of East Berliners into West Berlin and erected barbed wire fences across the city, which were quickly upgraded to the Berlin Wall. Kennedy's initial reaction was to ignore this, as long as free access from West to East Berlin continued. This course was altered when it was learned that the West Berliners had lost confidence in the defense of their position by the United States. Kennedy sent Vice President Johnson, along with a host of military personnel, in convoy through West Germany, including Soviet armed checkpoints, to demonstrate the continued commitment of the U.S. to West Berlin.
Kennedy gave a speech at Saint Anselm College on May 5, 1960, regarding America's conduct in the emerging Cold War. The address detailed how American foreign policy should be conducted towards African nations, noting a hint of support for modern African nationalism by saying that "For we, too, founded a new nation on revolt from colonial rule".
Kennedy encountered problems with the Israeli government regarding the production of nuclear materials in Dimona. After the existence of a nuclear plant was initially denied by the Israeli government, David Ben-Gurion stated in a speech to the Israeli Knesset on December 21, 1960, that the purpose of the nuclear plant at Beersheba was for "research in problems of arid zones and desert flora and fauna". When Ben-Gurion met with Kennedy in New York, he claimed that Dimona was being developed to provide nuclear power for desalinization and other peaceful purposes "for the time being". Kennedy was skeptical, and stated in a May 1963 letter to Ben-Gurion that Amercian support to Israel could be in jeopardy if reliable information on the Israeli nuclear program was not forthcoming. Ben-Gurion repeated previous reassurances that Dimona was being developed for peaceful purposes. The Israeli government resisted American pressure to open its nuclear facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. A science attache at the embassy in Tel Aviv concluded that parts of the Dimona facility had been shut down temporarily to mislead American scientists when they visited. According to Seymour Hersh, the Israelis set up false control rooms to show the Americans. Israeli lobbyist Abe Feinberg stated, "It was part of my job to tip them off that Kennedy was insisting on [an inspection]."Rodger Davies, the director of the State Department's Office of Near Eastern Affairs, concluded in March 1965 that Israel was developing nuclear weapons. He reported that Israel's target date for achieving nuclear capability was 1968–69. On May 1, 1968, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach told President Johnson that Dimona was producing enough plutonium to produce two bombs a year. The State Department argued that if Israel wanted arms, it should accept international supervision of its nuclear program. Dimona was never placed under IAEA safeguards. Attempts to write Israeli adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) into contracts for the supply of U.S. weapons continued throughout 1968.
In 1963 the Kennedy administration backed a coup against the government of Iraq headed by Abd al-Karim Qasim, who five years earlier had deposed the Western-allied Iraqi monarchy. The new Ba'ath Party government, led by Abdul Salam Arif, used lists—provided by the CIA—of suspected communists and other leftists to systematically murder unknown numbers of Iraq's educated elite, killings in which Saddam Hussein may have participated. The victims included hundreds of doctors, teachers, technicians, lawyers, other professionals, and military and political figures. The United States provided arms to Kurdish insurgents in Iraq.
Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Troubled by the long-term dangers of radioactive contamination and nuclear weapons proliferation, Kennedy and Khrushchev agreed to negotiate a nuclear test ban treaty, originally conceived in Adlai Stevenson's 1956 presidential campaign. In their Vienna summit meeting in June 1961, Khrushchev and Kennedy reached an informal understanding against nuclear testing, but the Soviet Union began testing nuclear weapons that September. The United States responded by conducting tests five days later. Shortly thereafter, new U.S. satellites began delivering images which made it clear that the Soviets were substantially behind the U.S. in the arms race. Nevertheless, the greater nuclear strength of the U.S. was of little value as long as the U.S.S.R. perceived themselves to be at parity.
In July 1963 Kennedy sent Averell Harriman to Moscow to negotiate a treaty with the Soviets. The introductory sessions included Khrushchev, who later delegated Soviet representation to Andrei Gromyko. It quickly became clear that a comprehensive test ban would not be implemented, due largely to the reluctance of the Soviets to allow inspections that would verify compliance. Ultimately, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union were the initial signatories to a limited treaty, which prohibited atomic testing on the ground, in the atmosphere, or underwater, but not underground; the U.S. Senate ratified this and Kennedy signed it into law in October 1963. France was quick to declare that it was free to continue developing and testing its nuclear defenses.
Kennedy called his domestic program the "New Frontier". It ambitiously promised federal funding for education, medical care for the elderly, economic aid to rural regions, and government intervention to halt the recession. Kennedy also promised an end to racial discrimination. In his 1963 State of the Union address, he proposed substantial tax reform and a reduction in income tax rates from the current range of 20–90% to a range of 14–65%; he proposed a reduction in the corporate tax rates from 52 to 47%. Kennedy added that the top rate should be set at 70 percent if certain deductions were not eliminated for high income earners. Congress did not act until 1964, after his death, when the top rate was raised to 70%. To the Economic Club of New York, he spoke in 1963 of "... the paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and revenues too low; and the soundest way to raise revenue in the long term is to lower rates now." Congress passed few of Kennedy's major programs during his lifetime, but did vote them through in 1964–65 under his successor Johnson.
Kennedy ended a period of tight fiscal policies, loosening monetary policy to keep interest rates down and encourage growth of the economy. He presided over the first government budget to top the $100 billion mark, in 1962, and his first budget in 1961 led to the country's first non-war, non-recession deficit. The economy, which had been through two recessions in three years and was in one when Kennedy took office, accelerated notably during his presidency. Despite low inflation and interest rates, GDP had grown by an average of only 2.2% during the Eisenhower presidency (scarcely more than population growth at the time), and had declined by 1% during Eisenhower's last twelve months in office.
The economy turned around and prospered during the Kennedy administration. GDP expanded by an average of 5.5% from early 1961 to late 1963, while inflation remained steady at around 1% and unemployment eased; industrial production rose by 15% and motor vehicle sales rose by 40%. This rate of growth in GDP and industry continued until around 1966, and has yet to be repeated for such a sustained period of time.
The major steel companies announced in April 1962 a 3.5% price increase (the first in 3 years) within a day of each other. This came just days after the companies had reached a settlement with the steelworkers' union, providing in chief a wage increase of 2.5%. The administration was furious, with Kennedy saying, "Why did they do this? Do they think they can get away with this? God, I hate the bastards." Amid concern about the inflationary effects of the price increase, the president took personal charge of a campaign against the industry, assigning to each cabinet member a statement regarding the effects of the price increase on their area. Robert Kennedy, echoing his brother's sentiments, said "We're going for broke ... their expense accounts, where they've been and what they've been doing ... the FBI is to interview them all ... we can't lose this." Robert took the position that the steel executives had illegally colluded to fix prices. The administration's actions influenced US Steel to rescind the price increase. The Wall Street Journal wrote that the administration had acted "by naked power, by threats, by agents of the state security police." Yale law professor Charles Reich wrote in The New Republic his opinion that the administration had violated civil liberties by calling a grand jury to indict US Steel for collusion so quickly. A New York Times editorial praised Kennedy's actions and said that the steel industry's price increase "imperils the economic welfare of the country by inviting a tidal wave of inflation." Nevertheless, the administration's Bureau of Budget reported the price increase would have resulted in a net gain for GDP as well as a net budget surplus. The stock market, which had steadily declined since Kennedy's election, dropped 10% shortly after the administration's action on the steel industry
Kennedy had little knowledge of the agricultural sector of the economy, and farmers were not on his list of priorities, at least in his 1960 campaign. After giving a speech to a farming community, he rhetorically asked an aide, "Did you understand any of what I just said in there? I sure didn't."
The Kennedy family originally came from Dunganstown, County Wexford. In 1848, Patrick Kennedy left his farm and boarded a ship in New Ross bound for Liverpool on his way to Boston. It was here he met the woman he was to marry, Bridget Murphy. Patrick Kennedy came to Boston, took a job as a migrant worker, and died within eight or nine years, of cholera. He left behind a widow and children to carry on.
Coat of arms
In 1961, Kennedy was presented with a grant of arms for all the descendants of Patrick Kennedy from the Chief Herald of Ireland. The design of the arms strongly alludes to symbols in the coats of arms of the O'Kennedys of Ormonde and the Fitzgeralds of Desmond, from whom the family is believed to be descended. The crest is an armored hand holding four arrows between two olive branches, elements taken from the coat of arms of the United States of America and also symbolic of Kennedy and his brothers.
Kennedy received a signet ring engraved with his arms for his 44th birthday as a gift from his wife, and the arms were incorporated into the seal of the USS John F. Kennedy. Following his assassination, Kennedy was honored by the Canadian government by having a mountain, Mount Kennedy, named for him, which his brother, Robert Kennedy, climbed in 1965 to plant a banner of the arms at the summit.